This review is for the Amazon.co.jp exclusive Xenoblade 2 OST [Type B] version. The links above will redirect to the [Type C] version of this soundtrack.
Regardless of whether you loved or…didn’t love Xenoblade Chronicles 2, there’s one thing I think we all can agree on: the soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. I greatly enjoyed the game itself, and even I have no problem whatsoever saying the music is the best part of the experience. Because it really is, and that’s quite a feat after the excellent soundtrack we got with the original Xenoblade.
Of course, part of the reason for this excellence is that the team responsible for the original’s stellar soundtrack is back, minus Yoko Shimomura. In her absence, the venerable Yasunori Mitsuda steps up to take over Shimomura’s role as the main theme/crucial cutscene composer. And as much as I enjoyed Shimomura’s work on the original Xenoblade, this is a very good thing. You might have heard reports that Mitsuda cried during the recording of this soundtrack, and well, those tears are earned: Xenoblade Chronicles 2 represents some of his best work to date, in my humble opinion. And the rest of the Xenoblade crew are no slouches either. This is a soundtrack where every member gives their absolute all.
This soundtrack is also massive. The standard edition is five discs and weighs in at well over five hours of music. Then there are two special editions that add a sixth disc and 25 more minutes of music. There’s a lot to talk about on each disc, so I’m going to try to give the highlights as we proceed through this large collection.
The album opens with two tracks from Yasunori Mitsuda, the second of which introduces the game’s main theme with a lovely English horn solo and a swelling refrain featuring strings and choir. To this day, I’m still on the fence about whether I prefer this main theme or Shimomura’s classic title music from the original Xenoblade — the first time I heard Mitsuda’s theme, I thought it was a close second, but now I find myself feeling the opposite. No matter where you end up falling between the two, it’s undeniable that Mitsuda’s main theme is beautiful and powerful.
From there, “Argentum” provides an energetic start to the game’s exploration music — the erhu (or Chinese violin) is a particularly nice touch. Manami Kiyota’s first piece, “The Ancient Vessel,” has a peaceful, almost mystical vibe to it not unlike “Satorl Marsh (Night)” from the original Xenoblade; it’s a little unexpected so early into the album (and the game), but the serenity of the piece is not unwelcome. “Gormott” is likely what a lot of people will gravitate to on this disc, but I personally find the subpar quality of the string synths incredibly distracting, especially because they span most of the 5-minute track’s melody. Thankfully, “Battle!!” shows up afterward and absolutely blows the roof off with a rocking melody courtesy of Kenji Hiramatsu. Finally, “Torigoth” is a Celtic-inspired town theme composed by ACE, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the work of Mitsuda; it sounds very much like a spiritual successor to Xenogears’ first town theme, “My Village is Number One!”
The second disc is the shortest on the standard soundtrack, but it still comes packed with memorable music. “Monster Surprised You” is an awkwardly blunt name for a battle track, but it’s one of the best boss themes on the entire album and definitely outshines “Death Match with Torna,” the other battle theme on this disc. “Kingdom of Uraya” and its nighttime variant are a dreamy pair of pieces whose sweet, lilting melodies create a magical mood. I was not disappointed when I saw the area this music accompanies in game. Let’s just say it definitely fits the space. “Fonsa Myma/Night” is another favorite; the daytime theme is grand and regal, as befits a proud capital, but I love the quiet acoustic guitar and rhythm of the night theme. Finally, “Drifting Soul” is a mid-game vocal theme that somewhat awkwardly plays during a rather dramatic series of events. I don’t particularly care for it, and there is another vocal theme at the end of the soundtrack that I vastly prefer, but I think having an interstitial song like this is an interesting musical choice nonetheless.
Disc three starts off with an absolutely deafening bang. “Counterattack” is Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s version of “Engage the Enemy,” and it’s one of the clear standouts on the entire album. The fast-moving refrain on this piece is supercharged with awesome, and while I probably still ultimately prefer its predecessor from the original Xenoblade, this is most certainly a worthy successor. Similarly, “You Will Recall Our Names” is both in title and style a followup to the original Xenoblade’s “You Will Know Our Names,” and it definitely earns its pedigree. It’s a rock battle track through and through, and it got my blood pumping every single time I heard it in game — which is a lot, because in addition to appearing in several key boss battles in the main story, it’s also used for all unique monster fights after reaching the fourth titan (where it replaces disc two’s “Those Who Stand Against Our Path,” a starkly inferior battle theme, in my opinion).
One other track on disc three I simply must talk about in detail is “Mor Ardain – Roaming the Wastes -.” This, to me, is the “Gaur Plain” of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I know “Gormott” seems like the more obvious choice for this honor, as both the titan itself and its music were clearly designed to remind players of that first awe-inspiring area in the original Xenoblade. But for me, the explosive beat and brass-heavy band featured in “Mor Ardain” had my rapt and undivided attention from the first brief snippets I heard of it in pre-release demos, which is the exact same reaction I had when I first heard “Gaur Plain.” The styles are different, but at least to me, the spiritual connection is there.
Another interesting thing to note about “Mor Ardain” is that it features a stinger at the end to wrap the music up without needing a fade out. In fact, this technique is employed randomly in several area and battle tracks across the album. This is somewhat unexpected for a JRPG soundtrack, but it’s a nice addition that makes the music feel like a performance rather than a loop.
The fourth disc in this mammoth soundtrack is another strong one, though it is slightly marred by containing some of my least favorite tracks on the album, namely “Temperantia” and “Cliffs of Morytha.” The former is just loud and boring (also an apt description for the location in which it plays), and the latter is worse because it uses similar instrumentation to my absolute favorite track from the original Xenoblade Chronicles, “Mechonis Field,” but in a really dull and plodding way that isn’t remotely in the same ballpark as its predecessor.
Don’t let my complaints fool you; the vast majority of this disc is fantastic. In particular, disc four houses all four tracks performed by the Irish a cappella group ANÚNA, and you should listen to all of them. These pieces really bring me back to some of Mitsuda’s classic work on Xenogears and Xenosaga, and each one is composed, arranged, and performed brilliantly. A few other tracks that are definitely worth a listen on this disc include “The Decision” and “Still, Move Forward!” The former is my personal favorite piece of cutscene music on the entire album; it’s a dramatic piece, with a pulsing beat, ominous strings, and accentuating choral work that just screams “something serious is about to go down.” And the latter is probably my favorite normal battle theme. It reminds me a lot of “Mechanical Rhythm” from the original Xenoblade Chronicles; the fast-paced energy and shifting keys have such momentous movement that it feels impossible not to get pumped up or jam out when listening to this music.
Disc five rounds out the standard edition of the soundtrack with roughly what you’d expect for the end of a JRPG: subdued yet emotional final dungeon music (“Yggdrasil”), climatic boss themes heavy on both orchestra and chorus, a weighty number of cutscene pieces, and a final vocal theme. In some ways, this is my least favorite disc on the standard soundtrack because there isn’t as much that stands out to me, unlike the previous four discs. The final boss theme (“After Despair and Hope”) is a good example of this: it has one great part a little over a minute in and then again at the end, but it feels like a lead-in for something truly epic that just never materializes. I greatly enjoyed Kenji Hiramatsu’s other battle themes on the album, but this is one place where I wish Mitsuda had taken over: his final boss themes do tend to be absolutely incredible, after all. There are also some tracks that are very ambient, featuring next to no melody, and while I appreciate their inclusion for the sake of having a complete soundtrack, they are undeniably dull. You’ll listen to them once and then probably never again.
Still, the final series of cutscene themes are quite strong, particularly “Parting” and “The Tomorrow with You.” These pieces are replete with references to the game’s main theme, as befits music that plays during the story’s denouement. Similarly, the ending vocal theme (“One Last You”) is an excellent capstone piece for the standard edition of the soundtrack. Jen Bird’s singing is lovely, and I find the melody and lyrics to be both beautiful and bittersweet, particularly the portion around 4:20 that references the main theme — I do love thematic composition, after all. On the whole, I find it to be a much better ending theme than “Beyond the Sky” from the original Xenoblade, which I basically couldn’t stand. “One Last You” is also bolstered by being one of many tracks composed by Mitsuda, instead of his sole contribution, so it benefits from being part of his vision for the soundtrack as a whole.
If you have the standard edition of the soundtrack, that is where the music ends. But if you have one of the special editions, there is a sixth disc with some extra goodies. The first 16 tracks are all of the various jingles that play when you do things like find a new location, obtain a quest, or get a new blade. They’re nothing particularly special, but it’s a nice addition for the sake of completeness.
The real gems on this disc are five piano arrangements of key tracks from the album proper. They are all fantastic, and each makes an excellent case for a Xenoblade piano album. The standout for me is “Counterattack.” Not only is the arrangement itself excellent (no small feat considering how epic and energetic the source material is) but it’s also bookended by a catchy bit of original composition. The arrangements in general tend to be played straight; they have embellishments and interpretations of course, like any good arrangement should, but they ultimately stick to the musical script. Which means that original interludes, like those in “Counterattack,” give the music a little something extra and make the arrangement feel more unique.
I could talk about this album a lot more, but if you’ve stuck with me, you’re probably ready for a bottom line. It is simply this: the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 soundtrack is fantastic and absolutely belongs in your collection. The music is equal parts gorgeous, fun, and pulse-pounding, and while there are a few duds here and there, they in no way diminish the stellar achievements made by each and every artist involved with this album. If you thought the original Xenoblade Chronicles set a high bar with its soundtrack, consider the bar raised to stratospheric levels.